The Ultimate Maintenance Guide For Diesel-Engined RAM Trucks

Regular maintenance and good care, in general, are essential steps in making any truck run properly and reliably for as long as possible. Although built to be tough and durable, this principle applies to your Dodge RAM as well, especially if there is a modern Cummins engine under the hood. These beasts have really evolved over the past few decades, transforming noisy tractor-like machines into a powerful and smooth engineering masterpieces. Naturally, such a sophisticated engine is very sensitive when it comes to care and does not tolerate negligence. In this article, you can find all usual maintenance steps and procedures that will help keep your RAM on the road for a long time to come.

 

Service Your Truck at the Recommended Maintenance Schedule

Following a maintenance schedule is the most important step for keeping your truck running smoothly. It should be your top priority as not only does it increase reliability and improve fuel economy, but it will also make your truck last longer and save you money in the long run. As with any other vehicle, the maintenance schedule for your RAM depends on the year it was made. Here, you will find all the data needed for performing regular maintenance.

Find out more: full maintenance schedule for all RAM 1500 from years 2001 to 2019 >>

Note: all service intervals are the maximum recommended period before the service procedure should be performed. Always adhere to the “severe conditions” recommendations when using your truck under such driving conditions. If you’re unsure which service category your vehicle falls under, follow the “severe” maintenance schedule. Always mind the factory service monitor system and perform maintenance as prompted. Severe driving conditions include any of the following:

  • Excessive idling
  • Frequent short trips where the engine does not reach full operating temperature
  • Driving in dusty environments
  • Driving off-road or in conditions that require the use of 4-wheel drive
  • Frequent towing or hauling

Replace Your Engine Oil and Filter

DIY Difficulty: Easy

Change Every: 3,750 – 15,000 miles

Why does the engine oil need replacement?

The engine oil and filter should be replaced regularly in order to keep your engine components in optimum condition. Engine oil lubricates and cools the moving components inside an engine. It also contains additives that prevent oil sludge and internal corrosion. Over time, engine oil deteriorates. Not changing your oil at a recommended time can lead to the formation of sludge deposits in internal oil passages. This reduces lubrication and causes increased wear on components. Depending on the year of your truck and the way it is used, Dodge recommends you change your oil every 3,750 – 15,000 miles. Refer to this page for precise RAM 1500 service intervals.

Changing the oil is a pretty simple job, and you can save at least $50 on the garage bill by doing it yourself. Only a few basic tools, such as a socket set and an oil filter wrench, are needed. And it will not take more than an hour. As for the oil, price ranges from $15 – $25 per gallon, depending on the grade you need. Also, during every oil change, you need to replace the oil filter, and they are about $20.

An easy step-by-step guide to changing the engine oil yourself:

  • The first thing, as always, is safety. If you need to raise the truck to gain access to the oil drain plug, use jack stands. In addition, a pair of thick rubber gloves will protect your hands from hot oil.
  • Warm up the engine before changing the oil. Since hot oil flows better than cold oil, it will drain a lot easier.
  • Jack up the truck and place the jack stands under the lifting points. 
  • Position the pan below the oil pan drain plug in such a position to prevent any oil spillage.
  • With an appropriate socket and ratchet, unscrew the oil drain plug.
  • Let the oil drain into the pan.
  • Remove the oil filter (or filter housing cap).
  • Remove the gasket or copper ring on the oil pan drain plug  
  • When all the oil has drained, reinstall the oil pan drain plug. Make sure to tighten it firmly.
  • Pour in new oil.
  • Wait for several minutes before checking the oil level using a dipstick. Add more oil if needed.
  • Start the engine and check if the ‘oil pressure’ light has turned off within several seconds.
  • Turn off the engine and recheck the oil level. Add more oil if needed.
  • Check for any oil leaks.

After you’re done, make sure you store the old oil in a canister that can be sealed and dispose of at a designated collection site in your area.


Replace Your Fuel Filter

DIY Difficulty: Moderate

Change every: 7,500 – 15,000 miles 

Why does your fuel system need maintenance?

The fuel injection system on a modern diesel engine is one of the most important parts to look after. Unfortunately, this is sometimes overlooked by truck owners. This is not a big problem on older 5.9-liter engines that were equipped with an old-style rotary injection pump, since this system is very robust. However, by the end of 2002, a common-rail injection system was introduced. This advanced system utilizes high fuel pressure to achieve optimized combustion and smoother power delivery while keeping the consumption down. There is a downside, though, as these precise assemblies are made within very narrow tolerances. This makes them vulnerable to damage caused by poor maintenance or low-quality fuel. To keep the fuel system in your RAM up to the job:

Tips to keep your fuel system in good shape:

(1) Use premium quality fuel

Clean and water-free fuel is one of the most important factors for the reliability and usable life of any diesel engine. Starting from 2007 most truck have a Diesel Particulate Filter (DPF), which means that they require Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel (ULSD). Using lower quality fuels in these trucks may result in damage to the engine or the exhaust treatment system. Be aware that not all gas stations have ULSD fuel.

(2) If using biodiesel – buy the correct type

If using biodiesel, remember that 2007 – 2013 models are B5 Biodiesel compatible, while models from 2013 onwards are B20 biodiesel compatible. To make sure that you use the correct Biodiesel fuel, check the labels at the filling stations that state either B5 or B20.

(3) Replace your fuel filter every 7,500-15,000 miles

This is especially important on common-rail engines. Your engine’s fuel filter removes dirt, rust, water, and other contaminants from the fuel entering the engine. Clean fuel is vital for your truck’s engine to perform efficiently. A clogged fuel filter can cause the high-pressure pump to overheat, causing serious and expensive damages. Also, avoid cheap aftermarket fuel filters, as some of them cannot provide sufficient fuel flow.

If your truck is used in severe driving conditions, replace the fuel filter every 7,500 – 15,000 miles, depending on the year of your truck. Refer to this page for precise service intervals. Severe driving conditions include excessive idling, frequent short trips, frequent off-road driving, or frequent towing or hauling.

If you consider changing the oil filter yourself, please follow the step-by-step instructions in the video below. You’ll see that this job is not very hard. You can pick up a new filter for around $40.


Keep Your DPF Unclogged So It Can Regenerate

DIY difficulty: Moderate

Change Every: When Needed

What is a Diesel Particulate Filter (DPF)?

The Diesel Particulate Filter (DPF) is a part of an emission control system on all RAM trucks equipped with a 6.7-liter engine, made since 2007. This is a simple device that removes ash and other fine particles from the exhaust gases. The particles collected within the filter are burned off periodically to regenerate the filter. Sometimes, this automatic filter regeneration does not work, and the particulate filter gets blocked off.

Regeneration failure can be caused by dirty fuel injection nozzles, residues in the exhaust gas recirculation system, poor quality fuel, or unsuitable driving style. Older RAM trucks are more prone to this problem, because these models cannot use diesel exhaust fluid (DEF), which we’ll explain later in this article. In order to keep the NOx down, these engines tend to operate with a rich air-fuel mixture. However, this generates significantly more particulates and loads up the DPF much quicker. As of 2013, all RAM trucks utilize DEF systems, significantly reducing the number of trucks affected by repeat DPF problems.

Tips to keep your DPF un-clogged:

(1) Refill the fuel tank only with Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel (ULSD)

Lower quality fuels have a significantly higher amount of sulfur, which damages the DPF and the precious-metal catalysts on the surface of the ceramic. Be aware that not all gas stations have ULSD fuel.

(2) Always use low-ash engine oil that meets CJ-4 specifications and CES 20081 standards

You can find this information on the oil bottle label. If older oil types are used, ash build-up in the DPF will be faster. This can result in serious damage to the emission control system.

(3) Monitor the health of your engine

Engine related problems, such as excessive oil consumption or fuel injection issues, will increase the amount of ash. This can clog your DPF filter prematurely.

When your RAM triggers the automatic regeneration process, it will let you know with a message on the dashboard. Depending on the year of your truck, it will look something like this: 

(4) Drive on the highway at least once a month

Excessive idling or frequent short trips do not allow the engine to reach its full operating temperature. This prevents the automatic DPF regeneration from happening. Try taking longer highway trips at least once a month.

(5) Monitor DPF blockage with a diagnostic tool

The amount of DPF blockage can be checked with any scan and diagnostic tool. If the DPF blockage is high (75% or more), you should manually engage the regeneration process. Most diagnostic tools have that as a built-in option. This is very helpful if your driving habits do not allow the automatic regeneration process to be triggered.

(6) Use DPF cleaners for extreme blockage

In case the regeneration process can’t un-clog the DPF filter, there are various DPF cleaners that can help. Simpler versions are designed to be applied directly into the engine intake, improving the burning of the ash. They’re simple to use since there’s no need to uninstall the DPF filter from your truck. However, for extreme buildup, direct DPF cleaning is needed. Because specialized equipment is needed for this, it’s best done by a professional. 

What about DPF delete?

Diesel Particulate Filter system is often accused of killing performance, and many truck owners decide to remove them. Although removing DPF will eliminate any eventual exhaust restrictions, there are several drawbacks that go with this. Not only is it usually illegal, but it will also cause your truck to create more smoke and smell.


Refill Your Diesel Exhaust Fluid Tank at Every Oil Change

DIY Difficulty: Easy

Refill Every: When DEF Level is Low

What is Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF)?

Diesel Exhaust Fluid or DEF system is a part of all RAM trucks from 2013 onwards. DEF, also known as a reductant, is used to reduce the harmful NOx emissions from diesel exhaust. Using the engine control unit to control the process, the supply module draws the reductant up from the DEF tank and supplies pressurized fluid to the injector. The injector sprays the reductant into the exhaust stream. When injected into the exhaust, the DEF mixes with the NOx gasses from the engine, converting them into more environmentally friendly nitrogen gas and water vapor. Because the DEF would freeze in low outdoor temperatures, a heating element is installed into the tank to prevent this.

Tips when refilling your DEF tank:

Although this system is quite simple, it still requires some care. Several points to be aware:

  • Generally, a DEF tank needs to be refilled at every oil change. However, driving conditions that increase fuel consumption will increase the rate of DEF usage.
  • Be careful not to overfill the DEF tank in cold climates, as it may freeze when temperatures go below the freezing point. If this happens, it will expand and cause damage to the components.
  • To avoid contamination, be careful when filling the DEF tank. Also, since the DEF and the diesel fuel filler openings are side-by-side, remember that the DEF filler has the blue cap. Do not, under any circumstances, fill diesel fuel into the DEF tank.
  • Do not put additives of any kind into the DEF system at any time, as this would easily render the entire system inoperable.
  • Because DEF costs around $10 per gallon, and it can be bought at most gas stations, truck part stores, or on Amazon, you can easily refill it yourself. It is not much harder than filling the fuel tank.

Check the video below for detailed instructions. 


Flush Your Coolant System

DIY Difficulty: Moderate

Change Every: 30,000 – 150,000 miles

What does the cooling system do?

The cooling system is one of the vital components in your truck and it needs to be perfect at all times.

It consists of several major components:

  • A coolant pump is the heart of the cooling system. The pump is driven by the engine drive belt through a pulley.
  • The radiator is a heat exchanger used to transfer the excess heat developed by an engine to the atmosphere.
  • The thermostat is a valve which regulates the flow of the coolant and helps to maintain the proper operating temperature for the engine.
  • The coolant temperature sensor is used to monitor the engine temperature. The ECU uses this data to manage fuel injection and other parameters.  Always keep an eye on the temperature gauge, as the information it provides can be very helpful.
  • A coolant, which is a 50-50 mixture of antifreeze and distilled water. Not only does it provide protection from freezing, but it also prevents overheating by raising the boiling point. Additionally, it protects your engine from corrosion.

Here are a few tips to keep your cooling system in good shape

  • Check the coolant level periodically (weekly or monthly) and refill with antifreeze if needed. Make sure you use the correct type of antifreeze. Trucks older than 2013 use MOPAR 5-year anti-freeze, while newer trucks use 10-year antifreeze. Refer to this page for precise RAM 1500 coolant specifications. You can see the difference in the image below.

  • If the coolant needs to be topped off more than once a month, it’s either leaking out of the system or entering the engine where it gets burned during the combustion process.
  • If you suspect that there is an external coolant leak, visually inspect for coolant traces in your engine bay. They can be caused by spliced radiator hoses, loose hose clamps, or a cracked radiator. The coolant pump can develop a leak during operation, so check that with the engine running. Lastly, if there are no visible leaks, check if the footwell inside the cabin is wet, as you might have a broken cabin heater.
  • There are several ways the coolant can enter the combustion chamber. Most of them are related to internal engine issues, such as a broken head-gasket or cracked cylinder liners. However, it is also possible for an EGR cooler to develop a leak, which will allow coolant to go into the engine through the intake.
  • Pay attention to how long it takes for the engine to reach operating temperature. Elongated warm-up periods can be a sign of a stuck-open thermostat. Although this will not cause immediate damage, driving like this can cause damage to exhaust emission control systems.
  • You may have a situation where your RAM runs at the normal engine temperature under moderate driving conditions but builds to high temperatures on long uphills or when towing a trailer. This can be caused by a dirty radiator or a weak coolant pump.
  • With the engine warmed up to operating temperature, check how tense the radiator hoses are. The cooling system is designed to run with a certain amount of pressure. This can vary from 5 to 15 psi, depending on the current engine temperature. Hoses that are very soft may indicate a faulty expansion tank cap.
  • Flush the coolant in your truck at recommended intervals. Depending on the year of your truck and the way it’s used, Dodge recommends you flush your coolant every 30,000 – 150,000 miles. Refer to this page for precise RAM 1500 service intervals. Prices go from $25 per gallon for 50/50 premixed coolant, to $40 per gallon for 100% concentrate.


Change Your Auxiliary Belt

DIY Difficulty: Difficult

Change Every: When needed

What is the auxiliary belt drive system?

The auxiliary belt drive system powers accessories such as the alternator, power steering pump, or AC compressor. Each of them needs a smooth and steady source of drive power. When the auxiliary belt drive system is working properly, all accessories are running as they should. There are several failure points and here is what you should look for:

  • A belt slip happens when the tensioner doesn’t provide sufficient tension to power the accessories. The resulting slippage will create noise, excessive heat at the accessory pulleys, and reduce accessory performance.
  • Misaligned pulleys will cause the pivot bushing to wear and the tensioner arm will move out of alignment. This causes the belt to run uphill on the pulley, damaging the belt, and causing noise. This also generates excessive heat on the accessory bearings, leading to accessory failure.
  • The belt and pulley must connect properly to provide the necessary friction. As the belt wears, it will not connect properly with the pulley, losing traction. Also, the evacuation channel gets larger, allowing water to get between the pulleys, causing it to hydroplane on the pulley.
  • The effect of a worn tensioner can be very damaging because the damping mechanism is critical for vibration control. A worn damper cannot effectively limit tension or arm movement. This will result in the belt slapping against the next accessory, causing it to fail prematurely.

When should you change an auxiliary belt or tensioner?

There is no recommended time frame for changing the auxiliary belt. However, it should be checked every six months. Things to look for are:

  • cracks or wear marks on the belt, as this could cause it to break soon
  • belt slapping and vibration while the engine is running, as this indicates a weak tensioner
  • squealing from the engine bay, especially during damp days or when accelerating

Changing the belt and tensioner is not an easy job, but it is still manageable for a tech-savvy DIY. Always replace the auxiliary belt together with a tensioner and pulley. You can get them in a kit for around $150.


Change Your Crankcase Ventilation Filter

DIY Difficulty: Easy

Change Every: 50,000 – 70,000 miles

What is crankcase ventilation?

In the past, a crankcase ventilation system (CCV) was a relatively simple device. This is probably why it is often overlooked today, even though modern crankcase ventilation systems require some maintenance. With emission control regulation being stricter every year, oil vapors have been recognized as one of the major contributors in overall exhaust emissions. During the combustion cycle, leakage between the piston rings and cylinder walls causes combustion gases to enter the crankcase. These blow-by gases, which are similar to exhaust gas and are enriched with oil, are not eco-friendly. Still, they need to be continually removed from the crankcase to prevent a rise in pressure. To lower emissions, a state-of-the-art closed crankcase ventilation system is used. Blow-by gases pass through the filter, where small oil droplets collect on the fibers and eventually flow back to the oil sump. The cleaned blow-by gases then flow through the air intake and into the engine.

Tips on keeping your CCV system in good shape

  • Use the correct type of oil for your truck. Refer to this page for precise RAM 1500 oil specifications.
  • Replace the CCV filter on your truck every 50,000-70,000 miles. Since a CCV filter is easy to get, it’s a very simple job, which will save your engine from eventual damage. All you need is a socket set and a new filter, which can be found for around $50. Watch this video for step-by-step instructions.


Change Your Engine Air Filter Once A Year

DIY Difficulty: Easy

Check Every: Every 6 months, Change If Needed

What is the engine air filter used for?

Air filters play a vital role in prolonging the life of an engine, since the intake air contains particles of different shapes and sizes. The air filter stops these particles from entering the engine and causing a lot of damage. Every air filter has a limited life, as dirt particles are deposited with every mile traveled. Eventually, the flow resistance rises, and the engine performance is impacted. This is why it’s so important to replace the air filter regularly. Sufficient clean air means maximum performance. However, avoid cheap aftermarket filters. In most cases, not only will they not seal properly, but they are also made from a paper that is too coarse. All this allows fine particles to pass through, causing incorrect mass airflow metering and damage to the engine.

How often should you change the air filter in your truck?

Because there isn’t a mileage-specified interval for changing the air filter, it should be visually checked every six months. If you notice excessive dirt deposits, replace the filter with a new one. As you can see in the video below, this is not a difficult job, and it will help your truck run better. Engine air filters can be found for less than $30.


Change Your Cabin Filter Once A Year

DIY Difficulty: Easy

Change Every: 15,000 miles or once a year

What is the cabin filter used for?

Cabin air filters provide clean air to your truck’s interior through the ventilation system. Over time, cabin air filters fill up with dirt and contaminants. These can include dust, dirt road soot, exhaust fumes, and major allergens. If you are noticing a musty smell, haze on the windows or low ventilation system performance, it’s probably time for a cabin air filter change. After replacing a dirty cabin air filter, you’ll notice improvements in driving comfort and in the efficiency of the heating and cooling systems. Additionally, a new cabin air filter will also help keep the interior clean and remove musty odors.

How often should you change the cabin filter in your truck?

A good rule of thumb is to replace your cabin air filter every 15,000 miles or once a year. Replacing the cabin filter is a simple job and takes no more than 15 minutes. And it is not pricey either, with filters costing from $15 to $25.


Change Your Transmission Oil and Filter

DIY Difficulty: Moderate

Change Every: 30,000 – 60,000 miles

Your Dodge RAM is designed with great towing and hauling capabilities. Still, if you frequently tow heavy loads in difficult conditions, your truck might need additional care. In situations such as start-stop or prolonged slow driving, your drivetrain mounts, as well as the gearbox, take the most beating. To avoid premature gearbox damage, you should change the gearbox oil more frequently, according to the ‘severe conditions’ intervals for your truck. These range from 30,000 – 60,000 miles, depending on the year of your truck and installed gearbox. Refer to this page for precise RAM 1500 service intervals. You can find gearbox oil for $20 – $25 per gallon, while filter prices range from $20 to $60, depending on the installed gearbox.

Also, installing an additional transmission oil cooler with a fan will help keep the oil temperature down, so you should really consider doing this upgrade.


Wash Your Radiator and Intercooler

DIY Difficulty: Easy

Change Every: Once A Year

If you drive predominantly in extremely dusty areas, such as deserts, farms, or on unpaved roads, you need to be aware of dust and dirt related problems. Obviously, engine and cabin air filters need to be constantly checked and replaced more frequently. Other potential problems are dirt build-ups on radiators and intercoolers, since the outside air contains a high amount of dust. This reduces the cooling capability and can lead to engine overheating or power reduction. To prevent this, wash the radiator, intercooler, and AC condenser. This should be done at least once a year, or more often if you drive in very dusty areas.

As you can see in the video below, it is very easy to clean your radiator. All you need is some soapy water, a hose, and a bug spray. A good brand for bug spray, for instance, is Bug & Tar HD Car Wash Shampoo from Chemical Guys. It offers great cleaning power at an affordable price of $20 per gallon. Just be careful not to scrub or scratch the radiator, because you may damage it. 


Install an Additional Fuel Filter

DIY Difficulty: Difficult

Change Every: 15,000 miles (Filter Only) 

Installing an additional fuel filter is a common modification that owners install on their trucks. This provides the fuel system with an additional layer of protection, as it removes water from the diesel more effectively. If you use your truck in very cold areas, this maybe very helpful.

Although installation requires some skill and more than basic tools, an average DIY-er can still do it. The video below shows how the filter assembly is installed. Prices of additional filter kits range from $50 to $100. Just make sure you get one that has all the necessary hardware included. As with any other filter, this additional fuel filter needs to be replaced every 15,000 miles.